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Military Records: Focus on Union Forces in the Civil War

If your ancestor served in the Union Army during the Civil War, then you have probably already worked on obtaining copies of his service records. But did you know there could be government records even if he didn't serve? Read on.


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The article Military Records: The Civil War, 1861-1865 gave a general overview of the available Civil War military records. This article focuses on records for those who served in the Union Army, also known as the Great Army of the Republic.

If your ancestor served in the Union Army during the Civil War, then you have probably already worked on obtaining copies of his service records. But did you know there could be government records even if he didn't serve? Read on.

As with most other military records, your main hunting ground will be the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), both in Washington, D.C. and at various NARA regional offices. The records available on microfilm for Union forces are indexes. These indexes are compiled by state and military unit. You must know the state or unit in which your ancestor served in order to obtain records.

Copies of the NARA's microfilm indexes are available at your nearest Family History Center (FHC), operated by the Church of Latter Day Saints. If you happen to live in the state where your ancestor served, your nearest public library may have a copy of that state's microfilm in their genealogy department. You will need the information from the indexes in order to obtain your ancestor's records from NARA. The actual services records have not, to the best of my knowledge, been microfilmed. To obtain copies of service records from NARA use NAFT Form 80. This form is specifically for Union Forces. Don't try using the form without searching the microfilmed indexes first. NARA will not do the search for you, so providing the state and unit is essential to obtaining the records.

After you've obtained your ancestor's main service records from NARA, you should do a similar search of the state archive records for the unit in which your ancestor served. They may have some additional information for your files.

As noted in our November 4, 2004, article, if you can afford a trip to Washington, D.C., an often overlooked source of invaluable data may be available on your Union ancestor. The country's first draft was issued by Abraham Lincoln and ran from 1863 to 1865. People age 22 to 45 were targeted, as well as new immigrants who planned to become naturalized citizens. Three sets of records were created and maintained, but none are on microfilm and copies must be obtained directly from NARA, as follows:

  1. Consolidated Lists
  2. Descriptive Rolls
  3. Alien Case Files

Consolidated Lists

Consolidated lists are the principal draft records of a pool of men who were subject to conscription. The men were in an age group of 20 to 45, so do the math. If your ancestor was in the proper age group, there may be data on him at NARA, even if he never served. The information that will be include will include the person's name, residence, age as of 1 July 1863, occupation, marital status, place of birth and, if he served, the name of the military unit in which he served.

Descriptive Rolls

The Descriptive Rolls provide additional information, including a personal description, exact place of birth,  and whether or not the person was accepted or rejected for service.

Both the Consolidated Lists and the Descriptive Rolls are part of Record Group 110. In addition to knowing the state of service, you must also provide the congressional district for the county in which your ancestor lived. A source for this information is The Historical Atlas of Congressional Districts 1789-1983, by Kenneth C. Martis, New York, Free Press, 1982. This book should be available at your local library or through an inter-library loan.

Alien Case Files

Aliens are non-U. S. citizens who served from 1861 to 1864. Service granted citizenship rights so if your ancestor arrived in this country during or just prior to this time frame, there may be records available through NARA. In addition to a description, the data usually includes the original country of citizenship and how long the person had been in the United States. Alien Case Files are part of Record Group 59 and, like the two types of records listed above, are only available at NARA. These particular records are filed in alphabetical order, a boon to researchers if you remember to try all possible spellings of the surname.

Other Articles in the Series:

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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